For most students, a typical day consists of school, parties and hanging out with friends. Travis Symoniak, a senior at the University of St. Thomas, wakes up every morning and goes to his job as executive director of Minnesota College Republicans.
On evenings and weekends he’s out knocking on doors and helping with campaigns as a volunteer. “I’m kind of a geek in politics,” says 20-year-old Symoniak. He helps out candidates running for office across Minnesota. Some days he’s coordinating a campaign; other days he’s planning an upcoming event and organizing volunteers to pass out campaign literature.
Political parties and campaigns rely on young activists like Symoniak, people with the time and energy for the relentless demands of long campaigns.
At the other end of the political spectrum is 26-year-old Nimco Ahmed, a Somali DFL activist, who works as policy aide to Minneapolis City Council member Robert Lilligren.
Her weekends consist of volunteer work involving politics. She knocks on doors encouraging people to vote and spends time on the campaigns for Democratic candidates. She also serves as the associate chair for her senate district in Minneapolis.
Neither Ahmed nor Symoniak comes from a family that was involved in politics.
“My parents aren’t in any way into politics; my father never told us to get out and vote,” says Symoniak, a computer science major. Symoniak became interested in politics during government class in high school; since then he hasn’t been able to turn from it.
Ahmed also comes from a family that has nothing to do with politics. “My family kind of sees me as a weak person and feels as though I spend too much time with politics. They still love me, and I try to spend as much time as I can with them,” she says.
Ahmed is currently enrolled in Metro State, but has been involved in politics since graduating from Roosevelt High School. She chose to become a DFL activist because she felt the Republicans didn’t help with the issues that matter most to her, including immigration.
For example, while many Republican officials advocate tougher treatment of immigrants who come to the U.S. without authorization, Ahmed believes that immigrants who came to this country illegally should have the right to become citizens.
“Everyone in this country is an immigrant,” she says. “Why should immigrants need documents? They should have the same rights as everyone else.”
Symoniak chose to be a Republican in part because he agrees with the party’s get-tough attitude toward illegal immigration. “Everyone has to come here legally. Coming here illegally causes them to take people’s jobs and not have to pay taxes,” he explains.
Although these two young activists are on two different ends of the political spectrum, they both have one thing in common. Both believe that people their age can help make change.
Sometimes Ahmed’s friends say, “Oh, you’re still doing politics,” as if they disapprove. She answers, “Whether my friends like it or not, I’m in it because it’s what I want to do.”
With this Symoniak agrees, “If you want to do it, just do it. If you put your heart to it, you can get it done.”